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WASHINGTON, Sept 3; The federal government has issued final rules that would disqualify commercial vehicle drivers who are convicted of disobeying railroad crossing signals.
The new Federal Highway Administration regulations published Thursday would also levy penalties on companies that knowingly allow, authorize, or require a driver to violate railroad crossing rules.
In March this year an Amtrak train struck a truck loaded with steel at a railroad crossing in Bourbonnais, Illinois, killing 11 people. The driver of the truck and the train's engineer gave conflicting accounts about the whether the crossing gates or warning lights were lit as the truck drove across the tracks.
The driver, John Stokes, had a long history of traffic violations and was on a 60-day probationary license at the time of the collision. He has since regained his full license.
PHILADELPHIA, April 13 -- SEPTA investigators have concluded that the February 8, 1999, fatality involving a pedestrian at the Gwynedd Valley train station could have been prevented if the driver of a truck which struck the grade crossing gate at the station had obeyed the flashing red signals at the crossing. It also determined that the grade crossing equipment -- including the lights, bells, and gate arm -- functioned as designed and did not contribute to the accident, it was announced today.After an extensive investigation, which included eyewitness interviews and participation by an independent safety engineer, SEPTA concluded that the grade crossing gate arm was struck by a dump truck as it was automatically lowering to prevent vehicles from entering the track area in the path of an oncoming train. A pedestrian standing near the grade crossing awaiting a bus was struck on the head by the gate arm that had been severed upon impact with the truck. The pedestrian was knocked onto the tracks and subsequently struck by the oncoming train. It was determined through equipment analysis, and corroborated by eyewitness accounts, that the crossing lights were still flashing as the truck entered the "off-limits" area. The state Motor Vehicle Code requires motorists to stop at grade crossings until red flashing lights are extinguished. SEPTA's investigation also noted that there were no operational deficiencies with the train involved in the accident or the operator of the train. SEPTA was aided in its investigation by the Lower Gwynedd Police Department. SOURCE SEPTA
By David Patch, Toledo Ohio Blade.
Ken Gilsdorf's freight train was ambling down the track toward Stanley Junction in Lake Township one evening this month when he and his conductor saw a truck approach from the south on East Broadway.
``He's going to have a hard time stopping,'' Mr. Gilsdorf recalled the conductor saying. ``I said, `He's not going to stop.' ''
With a puff of blue brake-shoe smoke, the truck, loaded with steel, slowed enough to weave past lowered warning gates at the crossing without hitting them. From his engineer's seat, Mr. Gilsdorf could read the company name on the truck's cab door.
Authorities investigating a truck-train crash in Illinois last week that killed 11 Amtrak passengers still aren't sure if the truck involved ran around warning gates or, as the trucker contends, was in the crossing when the gates came down late.
But regardless of the investigation's findings, Mr. Gilsdorf said grade-crossing violations are a problem he sees every day.
``People just don't really seem to care,'' said Mr. Gilsdorf, who has seen 10 collisions with motorists and is a volunteer for Operation Lifesaver, a nonprofit educational agency promoting grade-crossing safety.
Mr. Gilsdorf is a 33-year railroad veteran who has worked on many of the tracks radiating from Toledo and now runs a train five days a week between Stanley Yard and Delta.
His experience is not unique.
Jim Tucker, a 32-year veteran of CSX and the Baltimore & Ohio railroads, said he's had many frightening close calls with big trucks and ``mothers with babies in their cars'' that have run around crossing gates.
Sometimes, it's more than just a scare.
Records from the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio show that of 46 fatal grade-crossing collisions in the state between 1996 and 1998, 11 occurred at crossings with warning gates and 10 others were at sites with flashing lights but no gates.
Michigan Department of Transportation spokeswoman Janet Foran said about half of the fatal and injury grade-crossing crashes in Michigan occur at sites with active warning devices - lights or lights and gates.
Her department and Federal Railroad Administration statistics for grade-crossing accidents don't break them down by warning system. And even the Ohio figures may include cases in which vehicles stalled on tracks, or slammed into the sides of trains, instead of being hit after dodging lowered warning gates.
Marmie Evans, vice president for communications with Operation Lifesaver's national office in Alexandria, Va., said her agency doesn't collect gate-evasion statistics because that issue is usually resolved in a courtroom, long after accident records are compiled. But disregard for crossing warnings is widespread, Ms. Evans said, noting that in Operation Lifesaver seminars, people who say they would never run a red light freely admit to having broken grade-crossing laws.
``Many people are in a hurry. If they think they can save themselves a little time, or are thinking about other things,'' grade-crossing safety takes a back seat, Ms. Evans said.
Crisscrossed by railroad tracks and densely populated, Ohio typically ranks in the top five states for grade-crossing accidents. Though state records show a steady decline in accident rates in the last 10 years, the Ohio legislature aimed toward reducing them further in 1997 by stiffening the penalty for grade-crossing violations. What had been a minor misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $100 became a fourth-degree misdemeanor subject to a $250 fine and 30 days in jail. In Michigan, a grade-crossing violation is considered a civil infraction with up to a $100 fine.
Running around crossing gates ``is more serious than running a stop sign,'' because the potential damage is more severe, said Don Slemmer, director of Ohio Operation Lifesaver.
The Illinois accident, he noted, is proof that a wayward vehicle can derail a train, with deadly consequences. A similar accident involving a freight train carrying hazardous cargo could have far-reaching effects, Mr. Slemmer said.
If any good is to come out of the Amtrak crash, he said, it will be from heightened awareness about crossing safety. ``We've got to make something worthwhile come out of a tragedy like that,'' he said.
State officials, meanwhile, are taking two additional angles on trying to prevent accidents at gated grade crossings.
The PUCO and Ohio Rail Development Commission are studying installation of ``four-quadrant'' crossing gates or median markers at three northwest Ohio crossings, including a State Rt. 25 crossing on the south side of Perrysburg.
And Tom O'Leary, the rail commission's executive director, said a new state program will, over a period of several years, retrofit all warning lights and gates along Amtrak passenger-train routes with speed sensors. That way, he said, warning devices won't be running for an unnecessarily long time when a slow-moving train is approaching.
The Illinois Amtrak crash site had such circuitry, and Mr. O'Leary said Ohio planned its installations before that accident.
``Four-quadrant'' installations have gates that block the entire width of the roadway, with those on the left side of the pavement lowering later so motorists entering a crossing when the warning starts don't get trapped. Gates of this design are being tested in southeastern Connecticut on Amtrak's Boston-New York route.
Median markers keep drivers from crossing a road's centerline to run around gates. Median markers have been tested in North Carolina, and are similar in appearance to pavement delineators used on the median wall on Airport Highway in Springfield Township.
Additionally, the number of related injuries also decreased by 16.8 percent during the same reporting period. Railroad safety officials note that the stresses of the holiday season and inclement weather can distract a driver's attention from practicing common safety measures at highway-rail intersections. Unfortunately, this inattention can result in needless tragedy.
OLI President Gerri L. Hall stated, "Operation Lifesaver wants everyone to enjoy the coming weeks in the new year." Hall continued, "Together, we can help eliminate highway-rail collisions if we remember a few, simple safety precautions and to Always Expect a Train." According to the FRA report, the number of highway-rail collisions has declined each year for the last three years. However, January remains the month when American motorists are most likely to be involved in these incidents. "Any collision is one too many, but we are heartened that our safety record has improved consistently in recent years," Hall said.
"Our challenge is to help change the American mindset to always expect a train."
Operation Lifesaver is a national, non-profit organization dedicated to reducing deaths and injuries at highway-rail crossings and along railroad rights-of-way through public education programs. Its safety partners and volunteers work to deliver safety messages in communities across the US and Canada. Operation Lifesaver's partners include the US Department of Transportation, National Transportation Safety Board, American Trucking Associations, American Public Transit Association and the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials.
SOURCE; Operation Lifesaver, Inc.
PHILADELPHIA, Aug. 3- SEPTA is issuing a safety alert once again to remind adults to keep children away from trains and tracks in the wake of an accident yesterday involving a 9-year-old boy near Glenolden Station on SEPTA regional rail Route R2 Marcus Hook-Wilmington. The preliminary investigation indicates that at about 7:05 p.m. the child was struck by an inbound (to Center City) R2 train while walking in the track area near the Glenolden Station. He was taken to Crozier-Chester Medical Center and remains in the hospital in stable condition. SEPTA safety teams continue to meet with area residents and government officials to stress the need for train and track safety.
PHILADELPHIA, April 30 -- SEPTA is again warning citizens that tracks are for trains and is urging everyone to use caution when walking near railroad tracks. This alert follows an incident (April 29) near the North Wales train station in which a 12-year-old girl walking along the tracks was seriously injured when she was struck by a SEPTA regional rail Route R5 train traveling to Center City Philadelphia from Lansdale.
The preliminary investigation indicates that the young girl was with a group of friends within SEPTA's private property right-of-way as the train approached. Despite repeatedly sounding the train's horn and applying the emergency braking system, the girl was struck. She was airlifted to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia for treatment and remains there in serious condition.
SEPTA has only recently visited two schools in the Lansdale area to present its Operation Lifesaver program, which promotes pedestrian safety around railroad tracks, crossings, and stations. A team of SEPTA safety instructors has been in touch with North Penn School District officials and will shortly be returning to the district to meet with staff, students, and parents.
To schedule a school visit call 215-580-3500 or write to SEPTA Operation Lifesaver, c/o Safety and Risk Management at 1234 Market Street, Philadelphia, Pa., 19107.
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